Sadiq al Azm on Edward Said: Correspondence

Apropos of our recent discussion on Edward Said’s Orientalism: having held onto this letter some eleven years–and given the deaths of both principals–I thought I’d post it for whatever historical interest it may or may not have.  Sadiq al Azm passed away this past December (December 11, 2016). Edward Said died on September 25, 2003.  The letter, from Al Azm to me about Said, more or less speaks for itself. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Citizens (and Two Citizenries)

Donald J. Trump on the recent terrorist attack in Britain:

@realDonaldTrump  

  1. Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!

  2. At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is “no reason to be alarmed!”

  3. We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don’t get smart it will only get worse

  4. Whatever the United States can do to help out in London and the U. K., we will be there – WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!

  5. We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!

Continue reading

Orientalism, Racism, and Islam: Edward Said Between Race and Doctrine

David Riesbeck’s recent post on essentialism reminds me that I have a paper on a loosely related topic that I’ve been meaning (for eight years!) to revise and submit somewhere. As I’m teaching Edward Said’s Orientalism in the fall, I figured I’d make the time to revisit the book and the topic, and finally revise the paper. So here it is, in the interests of feedback from PoT readers, and potentially, for purposes of comparison and contrast with David’s post. Originally presented at the California Roundtable on Philosophy & Race, Hampshire College, October 2, 2009.


Orientalism, Racism, and Islam:
Edward Said Between Race and Doctrine

  1. Introduction

Edward Said’s Orientalism has gotten relatively little attention from philosophers in the Anglo-American analytic tradition. Arguably, though, the book has been at least as influential in contemporary political thought as has the work of say, Rawls, Nozick, or Dworkin, and has probably been more influential across the breadth of the humanities than the combined efforts of the sum total of analytic normative theorists. Widely regarded outside of philosophy as the foundational text of postcolonial studies, and as the touchstone of a progressive conception of comparative politics and area studies, Orientalism is also a pioneering contribution to race theory. Where English-speaking race theorists had, prior to Orientalism, devoted the bulk of their attention to anti-black racism and anti-Semitism, Said was one of the first academic writers to draw sustained attention to Western conceptions of the Arab/Muslim Oriental.  As one early reviewer concisely summarized the book, “Professor Said uses [his] privileged vantage to observe the West observing the Arabs, and he does not like what he finds.”

In what way is Orientalism a contribution to race theory? The question leads to a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, it is hard to deny that there is some such contribution. On the other hand, the contribution in question turns out to be surprisingly difficult to specify with any precision. I want to suggest that the conundrum arises from a systematic equivocation that runs throughout Said’s treatment of Orientalism—namely, his persistent conflation of claims about the essence of Oriental racial identity with claims about the essence of Islamic religious doctrine. Contrary to Said, a critique of the first sort of claim, however cogent and insightful, is not easily (or at all) transferable to claims of the second sort. The failure to distinguish race from doctrine undermines what is valuable about his account and abets serious confusion.

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Voter Fraud: Devil, Details, etc.

Does voter fraud exist? I mean, really exist?

The answer, from an article in yesterday’s New York Times:

The court found that all five restrictions “disproportionately affected African-Americans.” The law’s voter identification provision, for instance, “retained only those types of photo ID disproportionately held by whites and excluded those disproportionately held by African-Americans.”

That was the case, the court said, even though the state had “failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.” But it did find that there was evidence of fraud in absentee voting by mail, a method used disproportionately by white voters. The Legislature, however, exempted absentee voting from the photo ID requirement.

So it does exist. Continue reading

Felician University Event: “Policing the Police”

For those of you in the area, Felician University’s Committee on Leadership & Social Justice will be sponsoring the fourth and final event in its year-long series on “Race and Criminal Justice in America.” Previous events covered racial profiling in Bloomfield, the ethics and constitutionality of police stops, and community policing in Bergen County.

Our upcoming event is “Policing the Police,” about allegations of police abuses by the Newark Police Department, featuring a public screening of the PBS Frontline documentary of that name, followed by commentary and discussion by Junius Williams, the Newark-based author and activist. I’ll be moderating. (We may have some other speakers, but for now, Mr. Williams is the confirmed speaker.)

The event takes place Thursday evening, April 27, at 6:30 pm, in the Education Commons auditorium on Felician’s Rutherford campus (227 Montross Ave, Rutherford, New Jersey 07070). The event is free and open to the public, and is sponsored by Felician’s Committee on Leadership & Social Justice, its Pre-Law Program, its Department of Criminal Justice, and its UN Fellows Program.

Hope to see some of you there.

Extra reading: Here’s an an article about Newark’s policing problems in The New Yorker by Jelani Cobb, the filmmaker. Here’s the U.S. Justice Dept’s consent decree re the Newark Police Department. Here’s the Department of Justice’s list of special litigation (including consent decrees against law enforcement agencies). The website of Newark’s Independent Monitoring team. Jelani Cobb, again, on the fate of federal consent decrees under the Sessions Justice Department.

Blogging Hiatus (for real this time)

So I’m on my way to the office today, thinking,

I’ve been on a de facto blogging hiatus for the past two weeks, and am not sure when I’m going to get the chance to write again. Truth is, I simply can’t do justice to the blog while juggling all of my other commitments right now. Yes, I could write a lot of crap for the blog that would adversely affect my other commitments, but I can’t do justice to both.

In the past, I’ve threatened to go on blogging hiatus but not done it. Having been on blogging hiatus this time, I should hurry up and announce it before anyone draws attention to it, lest it look as though I’ve gone on blogging hiatus without announcing it. I mean, that would be absurd.

So I get here and discover that Riesbeck has posted just before I have, drawing explicit attention to my de facto blogging hiatus, and making it look for all the world as though I’ve gone on blogging hiatus without announcing it. Damn it all! Continue reading

Talking Treason

The U.S. Constitution defines “treason” as follows (Article III, Section 3):

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

It’s not the only possible way of defining treason, but it’s the legally accepted definition of treason in the United States. Treason is a crime, and like all crimes, those accused of it enjoy a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. Since it’s a capital crime, punishable in principle by death, the presumption of innocence matters even more than it ordinarily would, not that the presumption is any less applicable to non-capital crimes.* Continue reading

503+ Boots on the Ground and Counting

No comment on this item except to say “I told you so”:

More flexibility for American commanders appears to be coming. Representative Mac Thornberry, Republican of Texas Republican and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he expected the White House to remove “artificial troop caps” in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The current “force manning level” for Syria sets a limit on the number of American military personnel in Syria at 503. But the limit does not count temporary reinforcements, like the roughly 400 personnel who were deployed in Syria when the Marine artillery battery and Army Rangers were sent to the country.

There was another telling indication on Wednesday that American Special Operations would continue to play an important role. Col. Jonathan P. Braga, the chief of staff of the Joint Special Operations Command and the former deputy commander of Delta Force, has been named as the next senior operations officer for the American-led command that is leading the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Surely you remember President Obama’s “no boots on the ground” promise (“promise”)? It took less than three years for the promise to evaporate and be forgotten. Continue reading

John Davenport: The Case for a Constitutional Convention

My grad school friend John Davenport (Philosophy, Fordham) has an interesting essay up at the GPS site, well worth working through, on the need for a constitutional convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. I don’t have the time to comment on it at the moment, so for now, I’ll just commend it to your attention. Feel free to comment either here or there.

“GPS,” incidentally, stands for Gotham Philosophical Society, a quasi-academic philosophical society based in New York, and founded and run by my friend and erstwhile Felician colleague Joe Biehl. I wonder whether Joe’s work for GPS might be fodder for Derek Bowman’s Free Range Philosophers project; in any case, it’s a valuable and much needed contribution to intellectual life in the NYC metro area.

Stephen Hicks on Islamic Terrorism: A Response

Stephen Hicks (Philosophy, Rockford University) has an article up at his website, also published elsewhere, on “How to Tame Religious Terrorists,” meaning, essentially how to tame Islamic terrorists. Below I’ve posted a long comment I wrote in response. I’ve added hyperlinks in the version below, and added a clause to one sentence to clarify its meaning (“as is typically done in the United States”).

It should go without saying that my point is not that all Islamic terrorism can be justified as a legitimate response to real grievances (it can’t), but simply that some Islamic terrorists (and would-be terrorists, or sympathizers with those terrorists) have real grievances. One way (though not the only way) of “taming” terrorism would be to reduce the number of real grievances they have, especially when we ourselves are the direct or indirect source of the grievance–as in the Israeli case, we are. Continue reading